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Big things happened in the world of space exploration this week.
China’s Chang'e 4 lander finally made it to the other side of the moon and touched down without a hitch.
And, like any good traveler, it is sending back some awesome postcards.
The China National Space Administration announced the lunar landing by the Chang’e 4 around 9 PM on January 2. The probe landed inside the Van Karman crater and beamed back a nice color photo of its landing spot. Located near the lunar south pole, the Van Karman crater is approximately 180 kilometers in diameter according to DPReview.
As many media outlets have pointed out, this isn’t the first picture of the far side of the moon we’ve taken but it is the first picture from the surface. The first pictures reveal a cratered desert scene upon a sky of pure blackness – basically the kind of thing you'd expect from the moon's surface.
Due to the moon’s tidal lock with the Earth one side is always facing away from the Earth and towards the sun. Calling it the dark side of the moon is misleading because it receives ample sunlight. That said, it has always had a mysterious air about it and not without good reason.
Landing a probe on the surface of the far side of the moon then transmitting back pictures is complicated by the fact that the probe will never face Earth again after landing. To overcome this hurdle, the CNSA launched a satellite to orbit the moon and pick up the information transmitted by the Chang’e 4 in the process. The Queqiao satellite will position itself such that it can receive transmissions from the Chang’e 4 as well as send them back to Earth. It’s a pragmatic workaround, and it is a smashing success so far.